Those who warm to the modern idiom of twenty first century orchestral music will be greatly rewarded for listening seriously to one of the most intriguing and challenging discs I’ve heard in a long time. Finland’s Magnus Lindberg was one of several composers, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Music Director, Esa Pekka Salonen, who formed the Ears Open Society, experimenting with the diversity of sounds available to composers in the 1980s. Fear not, with the Clarinet Concerto of 2002 he began to merge logical, brilliantly orchestrated structures with emotional underpinnings that make his music explosive and thrilling to hear.
The best example on this disc is Sculpture, a 22 minute orchestral work written for the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2005 to celebrate its sonically and visually spectacular new Walt Disney Concert Hall. Sculpture is a grand cinematic drama that becomes a living riot of tonal color that will test the accuracy of your musical equipment. Orchestrated without strings and resplendent with instruments in the lower register including Wagnerian tubas, double bassoons and bass clarinets, the music cascades up and down, a musical depiction of the outside of architect Frank Gehry’s magnificent Concert Hall. It contains trumpet voluntaries (at 1:54) which could be part of the music for the movie Ben Hur, a tranquil and superbly orchestrated chamber-music-like middle section and a rhythmically percussive finale. Lindberg’s dramatic line never wavers and his colorful instrumentation never ceases to astonish and entertain.
Campana in Aria for horn and chamber orchestra was written for Lindberg’s friend Salonen (a horn player) in honor of his 40th birthday in 1998. The startling beginning, with horns playing in their highest register, continues with a pointillistic motivic development that integrates the virtuoso horn into a percussive orchestral tapestry. Esa Tapani effortlessly navigates and exploits the horn’s musical capabilities.
The Concerto for Orchestra (2002-3) is written as a chaconne, a 30 minute, five section work that speaks to Lutoslawski and Bartok’s masterpieces of the same name. It’s more dense than the previous two works on this disc, but shares Lindberg’s flair for the dramatic and his inventive orchestration. The first part opens with trumpet and horn voluntaries and exploits the full symphonic palette. The second section is slower, more somber and darker in color. It’s followed by quiet passages for a reduced orchestra, punctuated by playful woodwinds. A wild, dance-like scherzo follows. The last section is a grand, chaotic summation of the previous music, with a tranquil conclusion.
The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Sakari Oramo have this music in their bones and the recording has the impact that the music demands. Those willing to listen more than once to this music will be repaid many times over.
— Robert Moon